What does ‘Merry Terfmas’ mean? Anti-trans activists’ pitiful Christmas campaign, explained

A graphic showing Harry Potter author JK Rowling (left) wearing a witch's hat and Father Ted creator Graham Linehan wearing an elf hat against a background showing Christmas tree shapes

In 2022, JK Rowling sparked backlash after tweeting ‘Merry Terfmas’ just days before Christmas, proving that trans-exclusionary language doesn’t take a break for the festive season.

But what does the Harry Potter author’s tweet mean, and how is it connected to the writer’s ‘gender-critical’ views?

On 14 December 2022, Rowling wished a follower a ‘Merry Terfmas’ on Twitter followed by a ‘blowing kiss’ emoji. In the days since the tweet has continued to generate controversy and comment online in the run-up to the so-called ‘Gender Critical Coming Out Day’ – also known as ‘Terfmas’.

Rowling’s ‘Merry Terfmas’ tweet came in reply to Twitter user @Sian_L_S, who tweeted that the novelist’s launch of a rape and sexual assault crisis centre in Edinburgh that supports and employs only cisgender women, excluding trans women in the process, was cheering her up over the festive season.

Co-created by anti-trans writer and Father Ted creator Graham Linehan, ‘Gender Critical Coming Out Day’ falls on the anniversary of Rowling’s infamous #IStandWithMaya tweet in 2019. The tweet was one of the author’s first major public expressions of her ‘gender-critical’ views.

Rowling’s ‘Merry Terfmas’ message marks another disappointing entry in the writer’s catalogue of anti-trans rhetoric, reigniting debate about whether Harry Potter fans can continue to enjoy her work.

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Popular gaming influencer @iamBrandtonTV questioned those who still want to purchase and play the upcoming Hogwarts Legacy video game, which is set for release on 10 February 2023.

Parroting those who still wish to play game, he wrote: “I want to play that new Harry Potter game, I don’t understand why people would be mad about that,” before sharing a screenshot of Rowling’s ‘Merry Terfmas’ message alongside the words: “The author of that wizard book:”

What does ‘Merry Terfmas’ mean?

TERF stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist. First coined by trans-inclusive cisgender feminist writer Viv Smythe in 2008, the term is used to describe feminists who do not consider trans women to be women and often oppose trans-inclusive policies. 

The phrase ‘Merry Terfmas’ is a play on the popular festive greeting ‘Merry Christmas’. It was first used in 2021 by Graham Linehan to describe his much-derided ‘Gender Critical Coming Out Day’ encouraging people to make their ‘gender-critical’ views known to friends, family and colleagues.

The phrase ‘Merry Terfmas’ has since been adopted by TERFs as a rallying cry during the festive season and to describe ‘Gender Critical Coming Out Day’.

What is ‘Gender Critical Coming Out Day’?

‘Gender Critical Coming Out Day’ was co-created by disgraced writer Graham Linehan, who was permanently banned from Twitter in 2020 for “hateful conduct” over his constant anti-trans rhetoric – in conjunction with anti-trans activists Helen Staniland and the anonymous ‘Karen Actually’.

A dedicated website for the event describes it as “a day to let others know you support the reality of biological sex, and that you are against an ideology that says gender identity can replace sex, in whatever way works for you”.

Suggestions on how to mark the day include using social media to share ‘gender-critical’ hashtags such as #SexNotGender, #IStandWithMaya, #IStandWithJKRowling or changing email signatures to include purposeless phrases such as “my pronouns are based on my biology”.

Suggested actions also include buying ‘gender-critical’ merchandise (because Christmas capitalism seemingly makes no exception for discriminatory views).

When are ‘Terfmas’ and ‘Gender Critical Coming Out Day’?

‘Terfmas’ and ‘Gender Critical Coming Out Day’ are considered to fall on 19 December. This date marks the anniversary of a 2019 tweet by Rowling expressing solidarity with another prominent ‘gender-critical’ figure, Maya Forstater.

Forstater claimed she was discriminated against because of her ‘gender-critical’ views when her contract was not renewed by the Center for Global Development (CGD). In July 2022, an employment tribunal unanimously ruled that Forstater was directly discriminated against because of her ‘gender-critical’ beliefs. 

Rowling’s original 2019 tweet read: “Dress however you please. Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security. But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real? #IStandWithMaya #ThisIsNotADrill”.

An explanation of why JK Rowling’s #IStandWithMaya tweet was selected to symbolise the day is contained on the ‘Gender Critical Coming Out Day’ website, stating: “This tweet inspired so many other people to stand up and speak out about how gender ideology negatively impacts women, children, lesbians, gay men and bisexual people. 

“Lots of other tweets and actions have inspired people too. However, we’ve picked this one to be symbolic of whatever tweet, speech, action, event or news story brought this issue to your attention or inspired you.”

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